Now Playing…Wahlburgers: Identity Crisis…Starring Mark, Donnie and the Other Guy.

I suppose if you have the last name Wahlberg, it makes sense that you throw your at into the burger business, especially where you are backed by two pop culture icons who have graced the big and small screen as well as the music business for 25 years.

Wahlburgers recently opened its first Toronto franchise along side the SOHO hotel on Blue Jays Way.  I immediately thought a few things when I entered the place for the first time:

  1. This place is pretty big.
  2. What a hideous shade of green.
  3. Why are the staff acting like I’m in a Parkdale eatery instead of a downtown tourist trap? A black shirt or a cardigan should not make one better than me.

I was seated quickly and ordered a pint.  At this point I realized it’s quite hard to get a pint from the burger based joint and be able to watch a tv at the same time. The adhere to a list of local brews on tap and also feature the Wahlbrewski North which is brewed on contract by a local brewery.  The price range is $7-7.50.  I really had no interest in the $12 adult cocktails (although I will give them credit for using clamato instead of tomato juice in their Caesars..it looks like they did their homework).  Their $15 adult frappes look sickly sweet and look as if they would appeal to teens with fake IDs and those who feel comfortable drinking as many calories as they are about to eat (what the hell is whipped cream liquor anyway).

The menu is mainly burgers with the typical sides (salads and fries) but you can also get a portobello burger, a sandwich made of turkey with all the fixings and typical offerings off a kid’s menu if necessary.  I ordered the BBQ bacon burger with the sauce in the side.  In addition I ordered a side of famous Wahl sauce which is normally served with some of the other burgers on the menu. As a side, we split the fries and an order of tater tots.

While you’re waiting you can watch a montage to the Wahlberg brothers (Donny, Mark and the other guy) on a loop (including new and old footage and plenty of references to the A&E show) which runs on the televisons in strategic positions set throughout the restaurant.  Otherwise, you can also read the wordle-like large poster which lists all of Mark’s movies in the event it’s a trivia question or a dinner party conversation starter sometime in the future.

The burger was decent.  The patty was not overcooked although I would have been happy if it was closer to medium.  The bun/patty ratio was good. I enjoyed both sauces but was glad I didn’t ask for either directly on the burger since I think a little too much would have cut into the taste of the burger overall.  The clothespin was a bit woody….but probably better than the fries (see below).

BBQ Bacon Burger $9.95
BBQ  Bacon Burger $9.95
Wahl Sauce
Wahl Sauce

The sides were horrible.  The “naturally cut” fried clearly didn’t mean freshly cut and the tater tots were “just like I remember them”…over salted and greasy potato sponges.  Given the fries I get can get at other joints for about the same price, these were an embarrassment at $3.50 each.

Fries and Tater Tots $3.50 each
Fries and Tater Tots $3.50 each

My Take

I will be interested to see the fate of Wahlburgers in Toronto. It has a bit of an identity crisis.  I mean, where else can you grab a $7.50 pint to go with your slice of government cheese?   Despite the celebrity endorsement, it sill likely be more geared toward a sports fan than it will a patron of the SOHO itself.  It’s saving grace may the fact you can get a decent burger at a decent price in a place where dad can have a beer, mom can ogle Marky Mark’s abs and the kids can eat hot dogs and shitty french fries (I swear as long as there’s ketchup there’s no such thing as a bad fry to a child) and wonder why they can’t have a $15 drink called blueberry pie…all at a location within walking distance of a Jays game.  Otherwise the tricky parking and popularity of numerous other burger joints in the area may make it an ongoing struggle.

Personally, I  I think I could replicate my experience at Wahlburgers with a green sharpie highlighter, a  pound of decent ground beef, a Kraft single, a bag of McCain fries or tater tots and a toaster oven; all while watching Muchmusic retro while I talk to my annoying hipster cousin on speaker phone.

With other burger joints like Burger’s Priest, P & L burger and other options like Hero and Five Guys in town, I think this new kid will get knocked off the block pretty quick.

Wahlburgers on Urbanspoon

Another Susur experience: Would I thank this Luckee star?

Deciding on brunch in the competitive Toronto restaurant scene can be a daunting task.  Visions of eggs benedict and chicken and waffles fill my head like sugar plums on Christmas day. However, the recent addition of Luckee, Susur Lee’s latest project, has added Dim Sum to the trendy weekend choices. Located in the Soho hotel,  one can indulge on weekend dumplings as well as the wares of circulating trolley carts.

When I arrived, I was able to see Susur Lee quarterbacking his kitchen staff who were busy prepping and steaming the day’s fare. The menu includes both standard menu items and daily specials off the cart which circles around regularly. The set-up of the restaurant was a bit odd for dim sum.  The table we were at was not accessible by the cart, meaning we either had to get up or they had to carry things in.

Luckee offers a small number of Lee’s signature cocktails including the Burnt orange manhattan which I had a few weeks before when I went to Susur’s flagship  restaurant Lee.  Since I was driving home after, I simply grabbed a pot of Jasmine tea.  `

The waiter was pleasant and had a good handle on the menu.  He nodded happily with each order and emphatically insisted that we were missing out if we didn’t order the Shrimp Cheung Fun.   We complied.

The service started with an offering of three condiments;  green onion, mustard and hot sauce, soy sauce with sesame.

Luckee Condiments (Green onion, mustard/hot sauce and soy with sesame)
Luckee Condiments (Green onion, mustard/hot sauce and soy with sesame)

Instead of going into excruciating detail about each and every dumpling, I will summarize it as above average but expensive dim sum.  The offerings were a mix of traditional dumplings and some more innovative creations orchestrated by the flavour-bursting brain of Susur himself.  For example, the crispy vegetable spring roll, har gow (shrimp dumpling), xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings), chicken pot sticker were all a good reflection of the classics.  The Char Siu Bao…not much so.  I found them  a bit doughy and uninspired.

Good!

Vegetable Spring Rolls $6
Vegetable Spring Rolls $6 and Curry Shrimp Rolls $7
Har Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) $9
Har Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) $9
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) $8
Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings) $8
Chicken Pot Stickers $8
Chicken Pot Stickers $8

Not So Good

Char Siu Bao (Pork Buns) $9
Char Siu Bao (Pork Buns) $9

Regarding the more innovative dishes, it was well worth trusting the waiter’s recommendation of the Shrimp Cheung Fun $12.  The taste and texture of the roll itself accented with the soy juice was yin and yangtastic. It was a multi-dimensional taste experience and the best thing I ate all meal.

Shrimp Cheung Fun $12
Shrimp Cheung Fun $12

The savoury crispy rice donuts ($6) were filled with chicken, choy poh, chinese chives, jicama and shrimp.  Once again, flavours like jicama add a twist to traditional  dim sum in a successful and sexy manner.

Savoury Crispy Rice Donut $6 (came with 2 pieces)
Savoury Crispy Rice Donut $6 (came with 2 pieces)

The curry shrimp rolls ($7), pictured above, were another twist on the standard spring roll.  They were seasoned nicely and served with another dipping sauce indicative of Susur’s explosive flavour profile.

Dessert was also split into the traditional and not so traditional.   The former was a sesame custard ball that was good but not remarkable.  The latter was a mango passion fruit panna cotta with a great texture.  It was quite polarizing; the super sweet of the mango combined with the sour passion fruit wouldn’t be for everybody. It was a good few bites but wasn’t something that I would say was easy to devour.

Mango and Passionfruit Panna Cotta $7 and Sesame Balls $4
Mango and Passionfruit Panna Cotta $7 and Sesame Custard Balls $4

My Take

The reviews of this place from a service and value perspective are hit and miss.  Personally, I found the service to be excellent. The waiter was pleasant, efficient and recommended the best dish I ate.  The dishes, from the dumplings to the desserts, were a yin and yang of traditional and contemporary flavours.  I really can’t ask for much more. As for the incessant complaining about the price and the fact that five blocks up you can get the better dim sum for a third of the price, it gets tiring:

1. Susur Lee is a internationally recognized chef who has a restaurant in a suave hotel just outside of Toronto’s entertainment district.

2.  You can have a good experience in a place with a nice ambiance and a great drink list instead of a hole in the wall serving water and green tea.

3.  Toronto is a city where people will pay  $16 for a bowl of mushroom soup.  In fact, some of the most elevated prices in the GTA are during brunch.  Try and find bacon and eggs for less than $12.  That said,  what’s a few extra bucks for a dumpling?

I don’t want to sound bitter but it’s like complaining about a burger at Harbord room because there’s a McDonald’s up the street.  Let’s compare apples to apples.  Luckee is another option to the expensive brunch options. The dim sum is above average and the sauces/condiments are explosive,  punchy fun.   Yes, you will pay more than you will anywhere else along Spadina but it’s competitive among other Saturday and Sunday morning hot spots. For the haters…walk up the street.  Better yet, when pondering Beast’s $14 beastwich breakfast sandwich, say hi to Ronald while you order a $3 egg McMuffin.

Luckee on Urbanspoon